Vicodin Symptoms and Warning Signs
In the world of Hollywood glitz and glamour, Vicodin is one of the most abused prescription medications in the United States. ‘Vike’ (as it’s fondly called by some) has proved to be a popular opioid drug, used by such names as rap legend Eminem, pop singer Courtney Love and actors Melanie Griffith and Matthew Perry. Similar to Oxycodone and Tramadol, it is prescribed for moderate to severe pain in patients who have not experienced pain relief from using other opioid painkillers.
Laura Bradbard (a representative of the FDA) explains that there is a high potential for abuse when using Vicodin, even if prescribed by your GP. If you follow a doctor’s instructions, you won’t become addicted, but if you take larger doses or abuse the medication in any way, this risks developing dependency and addiction on Vicodin.
For certain individuals, the risk of abusing prescription medications is higher. This includes those who grew up in an environment where drug use was common; individuals who have struggled with substance abuse in the past; those with mental health disorders; and those whose parents previously abused substances. Subsequently, doctors have to be extremely cautious when prescribing narcotic painkillers for these groups.
The problem of prescription pill abuse is growing in the US and UK. Around 2% of the US population has abused prescription medication. Meanwhile in the UK, one-third of the adult population takes various types of prescription medication such as painkillers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills.
What is Vicodin abuse?
Vicodin is a prescription painkiller, classified as an opioid. The major compounds are acetaminophen and hydrocodone. Vicodin is prescribed for the relief of moderate to severe pain in cancer patients and for post-surgery pain. Apart from pain relief, Vicodin also induces feelings of relaxation and euphoria in patients. It is these properties that make Vicodin so powerful and addictive.
When you build tolerance, consult your doctor. Sadly, most patients self-medicate by increasing their usual dose to feel the original effects. The average Vicodin addicts take 20 to 30 pills every day, increasing the risk of overdose and other severe side effects. The longer you abuse Vicodin, the more difficult it will be to withdraw from the medication.
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How does Vicodin addiction develop?
One of the most common issues with prescription pill abuse is patients or individuals who take such medication when it isn’t meant for them. For example, going into a family member’s medicine cabinet and finding leftover Vicodin or receiving the same substance from a friend who has a prescription for the pain reliever.
Abuse occurs when you take the drug in any form not prescribed by your doctor. When you
do not inform your doctor at the stage of tolerance, you’re on a dangerous journey to addiction. After tolerance, you’ll reach the stage of dependence. Vicodin dependence is both psychological (whereby you crave the euphoric and sedative effects of the drug) and physical, (whereby you crave Vicodin tablets).
Recreational users seeking Vicodin as a gateway to substance experimentation could also become addicted.
How do you know if your loved one is abusing Vicodin?
The immediate effects of taking Vicodin will be visible. Your loved one appears very relaxed, calm and sometimes euphoric. They’ll have a glassy look in their eyes and exhibit dilated pupils. If they snort Vicodin, there will be telltale signs on their nose, such as sores and runny nose. Those who inject Vicodin will have track marks on their arms and other parts of their body. Look for any apparatus they might use, such as a rope, belt, needles, spoon or a lighter.
You’ll also notice that someone who is taking Vicodin goes through irrational mood swings. One minute they are happy, while the next they are angry. They become irritable and violent when they can’t access drugs and would rather stay indoors and take Vicodin than spend time outdoors with friends.
A few behavioural signs to look out for include:
- A significant drop in performance at work or school
- Financial trouble
- Lack of control over Vicodin use
- Inability to stop, even when they know the negative consequences
- Finding empty prescription bottles in the trash can
Five signs your loved one is abusing Vicodin
Changes in sleep pattern: ‘Vike’ addicts experience what is know as a ‘narc nod off’. This occurs when the sleep cycle of a Vicodin user is disrupted by substance abuse. They could be saying something important, yet fall asleep in the middle of a sentence. They could be driving or cooking and also nod off. This is a dangerous habit that could lead to fatal accidents.
Mood swings: As earlier stated, mood swings are one of the signs to look for in a loved one who might be abusing Vicodin. This usually starts after they’ve built tolerance. At the stage of dependence, the structure and size of the brain’s reward centre changes due to higher dopamine levels. Higher dopamine levels create an imbalance in the brain that leads to volatile mood swings and sudden outbursts of anger.
Change in behaviour: Prior to Vicodin abuse, your loved one probably practised good hygiene as they dressed for work or school daily. However, when preoccupied with Vicodin, everything else in their life takes a backseat. You’ll notice that they don’t care about brushing their teeth, wearing clean clothes, eating or shaving.
Onset of flu-like symptoms: An individual who abuses opioids regularly has issues with flu. Symptoms they exhibit include excess tearing in the eyes, itchy nose, headaches, high temperature and runny nose. This is a sign that they’re trying to quit Vicodin.
Exhibiting risky behaviour: The longer you abuse Vicodin, the more control it has over your life. At the peak of your addiction, you’ll be willing to do anything to source more drugs – even dip into your children’s college funds, visit dangerous areas where drug dealers hang out or access illegal websites to buy more Vicodin.
Short-term effects of Vicodin abuse
Hydrocodone – one of the primary compounds found in Vicodin – is one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States, with over 136 million prescriptions in 2013. Over five million Americans aged 12 and above admit that they’ve abused Vicodin at least once. The short-term effects of Vicodin are similar to opiates like heroin and morphine. When you take Vicodin, it binds to opioid receptors in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, spinal cord and other body organs.
Once it binds to these receptors, it produces effects such as:
- Suppression of pain
- Feelings of calmness and relaxation
- Feelings of euphoria
When you ‘come down’ from the ‘high’, you might experience the following side effects:
- Slow breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
- Impaired judgment
- Light headedness
The long-term effects of abusing Vicodin
Liver and kidney damage: All drugs are metabolised in the liver. When you abuse Vicodin, it overworks the liver to metabolise the large quantity of Vicodin you’re consuming. Combining Vicodin with alcohol further increases the risk of hepatic necrosis, which is a toxic liver injury that leads to liver failure. Liver damage is not immediately obvious and takes a long time to occur. High levels of acetaminophen could lead to severe damage when you take larger doses.
Using Vicodin for a long time makes you overlook the negative consequences of substance abuse and focus only on the positives. The interaction of Vicodin with the reward centre of your brain reinforces repeated use to the detriment of your physical and mental health.
Dependence: Tolerance develops over a long time and is common with drugs that depress the central nervous system. Tolerance often leads to dependence. At this stage, you will experience withdrawal symptoms such as depression, fatigue, mood swings, fever, chills, changes in appetite, depersonalisation, suicidal ideation and flu-like symptoms.
Addiction: Addiction is signalled by an inability to quit substance abuse when you know the negative consequences. Addiction occurs after long-term substance abuse. As dopamine floods the brain’s neural system, it binds more strongly to opioid receptors in the brain with each use, making it difficult to quit substance abuse on your own.
The effects of Vicodin on your body and brain
Recreational users who take Vicodin seek the positive effects of the drug, such as euphoria and extreme relaxation. When you’re addicted to Vicodin, your body craves more of the drug. You’ll be willing to steal and take risky decisions in order to source more drugs. Your organs and brain receive less oxygen than they need to perform at maximum levels, which in turn leads to heart disease, liver failure and brain damage.
Vicodin targets the reward centre of the brain to override the feeling of pain. Taking large doses damages those areas of the brain, due to the constant influx of dopamine. This leads to imbalances in neural functions that manifest as psychosis, anxiety, paranoia, mood swings and depression.
The dangers of abusing Vicodin
Hearing loss: This is a danger associated with long-term abuse and is not reversible. If you take over 15 tablets a day, you could suffer hearing loss in the future. Even with the help of a hearing aid, it could be difficult to manage.
Cardiovascular damage: A fluctuating heartbeat is well-known side-effect of abusing Vicodin and can lead to clogged arteries, damaged veins and heart attack.
Chronic constipation: Constipation usually occurs after you’ve started taking opioids; this can even happen to those with a legitimate prescription. Consult your doctor and they will prescribe stool softeners. If untreated, this leads to prolapse and haemorrhoids.
Reproduction problems: Men who abuse Vicodin might suffer erectile dysfunction and low testosterone levels.
Brain damage: Taking high doses of Vicodin reduces regular breathing patterns that deprive your brain and body of oxygen. This leads to cognition impairment, memory loss and cognitive decline.
Withdrawal symptoms in newborn babies: Mothers who took Vicodin when they conceived -and continued taking the pill throughout their pregnancy – could suffer miscarriages or stillbirth. Alternatively, the baby could be born premature and have low-birth weight – both of which pose dangers to the child’s survival.
How can I avoid Vicodin abuse?
The only way to avoid Vicodin abuse is to be upfront with your prescribing doctors about any issues, such as the current prescription you’re taking, your past history of substance abuse and any existing mental health conditions. This helps your doctor to determine the safest dose that prevents abuse and addiction. Take the medication as prescribed and at the first sign of tolerance, call your doctor immediately. Do not change your medication, skip doses or stop taking Vicodin without informing your doctor first.
Vicodin Withdrawal symptoms
Vicodin withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioid-narcotics. Factors that determine the amount of time you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms include dosage, duration of use, psychological compulsiveness and the method by which you choose to quit Vicodin. Withdrawal symptoms usually last seven to ten days, but might extend up to two weeks in long-term substance users.
- Increased craving for Vicodin
- Reduced appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Flu-like symptoms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle cramps
- Body aches
During a medically-supervised detox, doctors will use the tapering method to help you safely quit Vicodin abuse. They gradually reduce your regular dose, until Vicodin has left your system. They will also provide withdrawal medications such as Naloxone to treat opioid overdose and reduce painful withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of Vicodin overdose
Symptoms will surface when you take large doses of Vicodin. For some users, this might happen accidentally, while for others, it’s a side effect of long-term drug abuse. Most of the overdose symptoms manifest because of the stress placed on your body to take in more opioids than it was naturally designed to handle.
- Pinpoint pupils
- Bluish tint to fingernails and lips
- Respiratory depression
- Uncontrollable vomiting
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Find help for Vicodin abuse
There are many options to consider for treating Vicodin abuse. The easiest method is to call a drug addiction helpline. A drug counsellor takes your call and applies scientific techniques to recommend the best treatment options for you. They can also help you find a Narcotic Anonymous meeting or other variants of the 12-step programme in your local area.
If you require comprehensive treatment, an inpatient rehab centre is the best option. These are extended stay programmes that eliminate all triggers that might cause you to relapse whilst receiving addiction treatment. Other options include peer support, outpatient rehab programmes and medical detoxification.
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